'Florida Project' Producer Accused of Sexual Harassment by a Dozen Insiders

Andrew Duncan and Alex Saks Updated - Split - Getty - H 2017
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Andrew Duncan denies any wrongdoing and blames the claims on "rivals," while countering that a late-night call to a female producer was "not coercive."

Earlier this year, the upstart June Pictures impressed by taking three films to Sundance and Cannes. One of those, The Florida Project, has since become an awards contender. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter before Sundance, June co-founder Andrew Duncan said one key to the company’s early success was its focus: “We keep outside noise on a minimum,” he said.

But the outside noise cannot be contained. Sources claim that Duncan, who has provided millions in financial backing for June Pictures, sexually harassed several people associated with the company and had also instructed a June employee to pay prostitutes. Duncan denies all of the claims of improper behavior, blaming unspecified "rivals of mine" bent on taking "cynical advantage of the news climate involving sexual harassment to undermine [June's] financial prospects."

The sources coming forward believe that Duncan’s partner in June Pictures, former ICM agent Alex Saks, has been aware of Duncan’s behavior for more than a year but did not take effective steps to address the issue when allegations were brought to her attention.

Following questions from THR, Saks announced late Thursday that Duncan is divesting from the company and she will lead it alone. “In light of allegations of misconduct against our investor Andrew Duncan, I am assuming sole ownership and leadership of June Pictures,” Saks said in a statement. “June Pictures is committed to a respectful work environment dedicated to producing quality films. We will continue our projects already in production and development.”

As Duncan has provided the financing for June, severing ties with him would not appear to be an easy option, although he did confirm that Saks now "has sole operating control of the company and we have come to terms for her buyout of my stake." Saks did not respond to questions about how the company could move forward without Duncan’s financial backing or why she had not acted to sever the relationship sooner after hearing of alleged inappropriate conduct.

The Florida Project director Sean Baker, speaking for his cast and crew, issued a statement saying, "On behalf of the cast and crew of The Florida Project, I am saddened to learn about these allegations against June Pictures' Andrew Duncan. Mr. Duncan was a financier on our feature, and we are grateful that we were able to fulfill our vision on our own terms, however our personal experiences with him were limited. While we did not witness nor have any knowledge of inappropriate behavior, we are of course deeply concerned about these allegations. I have been outspoken before and firmly believe that film sets and work environments absolutely must be safe spaces for everyone regardless of gender, age, race, or creed."

THR interviewed a dozen individuals with extensive knowledge of June Pictures since its launch a year ago. None would speak on the record for fear of retribution from Duncan and Saks. They describe a series of alleged incidents involving Duncan over the past year, including:

•   In mid-December 2016, Duncan allegedly initiated a FaceTime call at night with a female producer on the upcoming teen comedy Dude. Lying with his shirt open on a bed, sources say Duncan in crude language asked the producer — whom he did not know well — to have sex with her husband while he watched. When he became aware of another woman present in the producer’s home, he asked all three adults to have sex while he watched. Saks was told of the incident shortly after it occurred.

•   Earlier in December 2016, at a crew dinner on location in Oklahoma for a film called Wildlife, an apparently inebriated Duncan allegedly kissed a female crewmember on the lips without her consent, squeezed another attendee on her bottom while hugging her, suggested that a male and female crewmember “shotgun each other” (smoke and then kiss, transferring the smoke) and offered to purchase hotel rooms for the night if others reported their sexual activities back to him. Wildlife, which is Paul Dano’s directorial debut, will be in competition at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival. Saks was not present at the dinner, but is said to have been told of Duncan’s conduct.

•   In August, at a dinner with Saks and the producers of the upcoming film Book Club at Vincenti in Los Angeles, a seemingly inebriated Duncan allegedly attempted to kiss a female producer on the lips without her consent and repeatedly propositioned two women at the table, one related to the female producer, for a threesome. Book Club, directed by Bill Holderman, boasts a roster of stars including Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen and Jane Fonda. Paramount is in the process of acquiring the film.

Sources say most June filmmakers appear to be unaware of Duncan’s alleged conduct. Sources say Saks, who was named to THR’s NextGen list in October, has been grappling with how to proceed at June given imminent media reports on Duncan’s conduct. 

Asked about allegations that Duncan had asked for payoffs to be made to prostitutes, CFO Dori Rath responded, “I have not been directed to do anything with any funds that are within June Pictures. But as far as any questions about what payments have been made, it’s a private company. I can’t comment on funds in a private company, but to my knowledge, I have never been directed to make payments anywhere that would not be appropriate.” Company controller Eileen Mazzei did not respond to requests for comment.

Sources say Duncan has pledged millions to invest in the movie business. In an interview with THR a year ago, Duncan said he and Saks “hate being called 'investors.'” The company’s game plan is to make movies across all genres, mostly in the $5 million to $10 million range.

June’s only announced project set to go into production in 2018 is My Life on the Road, an upcoming film based on the life of Gloria Steinem starring Julianne Moore. 

Read Duncan's full statement below.

My company, June Pictures, is going through a pivotal phase of growth and it seems apparent to me that some rivals of mine are trying to take cynical advantage of the news climate involving sexual harassment to undermine our financial prospects. The several circumstances that have been presented to me by news outlets are each distorted or demonstrably false in several key respects.

I was first contacted about allegations against me on Thursday, Dec. 14, late in the afternoon by The Hollywood Reporter with a demand that I reply within hours or face publication of the anonymous claims. Apparently, as I learned from colleagues, unknown sources were also encouraging stories by publications including Variety and Deadline Hollywood at the same time. It seems to me that maneuvering was done to create competitive pressure between those outlets and build a sense of momentum to essentially baseless assertions.  

Here are the specifics. In December, 2016, I hosted cast and crew of a film project to a collegial dinner at a public restaurant. That outing was an enthusiastic celebration of our project by all involved but at no time did I physically touch anyone inappropriately. None of the more than a dozen people that were present put their name to anything contrary, nor staff, nor anyone else at the venue at any time then or now. The situation that was recounted to me by reporters about that evening has no hard basis and simply did not happen as they describe it.  

Similarly, a supposed incident at a group dinner I hosted in August 2017 at a restaurant in Los Angeles has also been fabricated. No improper conduct occurred on that occasion either and there is no person that publicly corroborates otherwise.  

A video chat I had with a former co-producer and her spouse in December 2016 is also being misrepresented. I said nothing in the exchange that was coercive in any way. Even-handed reporting ought to include the fact that my company had previously declined to finance a film that individual had previously proposed.  

The claim that I had sought to misappropriate company funds for an illicit purpose is entirely false and also has no supporting substantiation. I have never misused the company’s funds in any way, a fact that is affirmed by our chief financial officer.  

The internal business discussions I have had with colleagues about the future of our company have been underway for a long while and began well before any of these current falsehoods arose.  

Whatever the broader context in society, journalists owe the public and the subjects of their coverage an obligation to substantiate the stories they present, especially when those articles malign a person’s hard-earned reputation. It is both a painful and more difficult course of action for me to confront lurid and baseless allegations about my conduct in this detailed way. But I am obliged to take this stance both for my own personal integrity and out of sense of duty to the many dedicated employees and colleagues with whom I work.  

It seems obvious to me that substantiated facts and fairness are utterly absent from this reporting and that instead hidden sources are co-opting the press for their own, ulterior motives. I intend to stand up for my integrity and confront any wrongful allegations of misconduct and also any concealed methods that are taking place to advance those malicious claims.  

Alex Saks has sole operating control of the company and we have come to terms for her buyout of my stake.

Dec. 15, 3:30 p.m. Updated with Baker's statement.